Tobias Menzies deserves a goodbye Emmy nomination for Best Drama Guest Actor for his last season of “Outlander.” Last fall Menzies ended his three-year run in the time-travel romance, in which he played dual roles as 18th century antagonist Black Jack and his 20th century descendant Frank Randall, the first husband of Claire (Caitriona Balfe). And the timing for Menzies could be just right since it was recently announced that he will be taking over the role of Prince Philip on “The Crown” from Matt Smith in its upcoming third season.
If you’re not familiar with Menzies by name you probably recognize his face as the character actor has worked in a number of award-winning shows. He’s appeared in the dramas “Rome” and “Game of Thrones” as well as longform programs “Black Mirror,” “The Honorable Woman” and “The Night Manager.” Menzies can also bring the funny as he did in the comedies “Catastrophe” and “Getting On.” And he has made appearances in feature films including “Casino Royale” and “Atonement.”
Menzies received a Golden Globe nomination for Best TV Supporting Actor (2016) for “Outlander,” primarily on the strength of his devilish work as Black Jack during the first season. However, should he receive an Emmy nomination this year, it will be as the long-suffering Frank. Claire fell in love with another man, Jamie (Sam Heughan), while she was stuck in the 18th century and became pregnant with his child. Frank agrees to raise the child as his own after Claire returns. But after years of living in a loveless marriage Menzies is given a great final episode: “All Debts Paid.” At Claire’s medical school graduation party Frank’s mistress unexpectedly shows up at the door. Claire angrily confronts Frank and wants a divorce, giving Menzies his first opportunity to shine as Frank must swallow his pride and beg his wife to stay in their marriage so he can stay in her daughter Brianna’s life.
If one heartbreaking moment was not enough, after Brianna graduates high school he decides that enough is enough and he wants a divorce and to take Brianna with him. Throughout the episode viewers feel sympathy for Frank; he clearly loves Brianna, and in order to be her father he sacrificed his personal happiness. By the end of the episode its almost hard to remember that viewers spent so much time hating his alter ego, Black Jack. He will be missed next season.
The critics agree Menzies is at his best in his final trio of “Outlander” episodes. Verne Gay (Newsday) writes, “Menzies — a remarkable actor — captures his pathos with heartbreaking precision.” Jeff Jensen (Entertainment Weekly) adds, “Frank’s wrecked life deserves our tears. And Menzies earns them.” And Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya (A.V. Club) reflects about “All Debts Paid” that Menzies sells “every second of every fight in the tense episode.”
If Menzies scores a nomination for Best Drama Guest Actor it’ll be a significant breakthrough for the Starz network. To date Chiwetel Ejiofor is the only actor to ever receive a nomination for Starz: back in 2014 he contended for Best Movie/Mini Actor for “Dancing on the Edge.” Menzies would be the first Starz acting nominee from a continuing series.
Should Menzies overcome the Starz bias and receive a nomination his journeymen status could actually help him pull off a win. Emmy voters often love hard-working character actors. After a a career spanning three decades Paul McCrane (“Harry’s Law”) won this category in 2011. Forty-year working actor Joe Morton (“Scandal”) was victorious in 2014. Veteran Reg E. Cathey (“House of Cards”) won in 2015, and after 40 years in television Gerald McRaney (“This Is Us”) prevailed last year. If Menzies is nominated he may have to face off against McRaney, who made a return guest appearance on “This is Us” in season two. But now that Menzies is about to be a member of the royal family he might have the buzz to pull off a win. That would give “Outlander” fans a chance to rejoice instead of being disappointed again.
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